Run for fun, exercise and to help injured firefighters and burn victims at the seventh annual Hook & Ladder Run through the vineyards starting at 8 a.m. today.
"Every 72 hours a firefighter will die in the line of duty," said fire engineer Matthew Thau, director of the Livermore-Pleasanton Firefighters Foundation. "We are supporting them in the state of California, and if there is a large loss outside of the state, we will also make a donation. The majority are those who have died or are critically injured."
The run through Livermore vineyards begins at Wente on Arroyo Road, includes 50-90% dirt roads, and passes through the beautiful Sycamore Grove Park. Runners can opt for a 10K or 5K route, and the event also features a Kids 1-Mile Fun Run. The 5K run/walk course is level, and strollers are allowed.
"The run is built around the fact that it's a great family friendly event," Thau said. "Participants can get exercise and feel good themselves -- and they are also helping people."
One beneficiary is Camp Arroyo, which has two sessions each year for children who have suffered disfiguring burns. It's a chance for them to enjoy friendships and the outdoors without being self-conscious.
"On-duty and off-duty firefighters will be participating in the camps this year," Thau said, explaining that they volunteer at the camps as well as support them financially.
Thau said the foundation receives one or two requests for help each week. Money is distributed in amounts ranging from $250 to $5,000 with the majority of donations $1,000 or less to do the most good for the greatest number.
The Livermore-Pleasanton Firefighters Foundation was begun after Capt. Scott Walsh, a 28-year veteran with the department, suffered multiple fractures and internal injuries when he fell 25 feet through an open pit in a dark, smoky area while fighting a first-alarm fire at 1:30 a.m., May 1, 2006, at the Pleasanton Garbage Co. transfer station. He was airlifted to Stanford University Medical Center where a surgical team assembled to stabilize him and start repairing the damage.
The firefighters wanted some organized way to help Walsh and his family, Thau recalled. The Livermore-Pleasanton Firefighters Foundation, a nonprofit organization, was begun to support injured and fallen firefighters, police, EMS personnel, and their families locally and throughout the state.
The foundation also supports the Alisa Ann Rush Burn Foundation, which has offices in San Francisco, Fresno and Burbank, and Tri-Valley organizations including Open Heart Kitchen, Senior Support, the Taylor Family Foundation and the American Cancer Society Relay for Life.
Thau noted that although advances in techniques and equipment have made firefighting safer and fire protection systems are getting more sophisticated, firefighters are now at risk due to burning plastic and polyurethane synthetic materials. Firefighters can breathe in or get direct exposure through skin contact to toxins that are being found to cause a number of different cancers, Thau said.
"Houses used to be wood or what we call 'ordinary combustibles,'" he explained. "Now when there is a fire in a home, we are getting exposed to what we call a 'toxic soup,' in the air and through the skin."
He cited fire Capt. Paul Chenkovich, who died of brain cancer in November 2013 at the age of 48, as one such victim whose family was helped by the foundation.
"That was one of the hardest to hit home," Thau said.
Chenkovich's wife Wendy and children Alex, 17, and Ella, 10, participate in the Hook & Ladder Run.
Also each year, two burn survivors are flown over the Kids Run by Reach Air Ambulance Service, unless the helicopter is needed for an emergency. The flights are coordinated from Livermore Airport.
"That's a special thing we do," Thau said.
Participation in the Hook & Ladder Run is capped at 1,500 runners, and last year the event sold out, raising more than $50,000. Preregistration ends today but runners can register the day of the event unless it is sold out.
"There is also a great raffle, with donations from businesses," Thau said.
The foundation is also sponsoring the upcoming celebration of the famous Livermore light bulb, which in June will have burned at the fire station in Livermore for 1 million hours. The family event on June 27 will include a barbecue, the department's popular safety house, and fire engines old and new.
Be a hero -- sign up to run
What: Hook and Ladder Run
Who: Livermore-Pleasanton Firefighters Foundation
When: 5K and 10K begin at 8 a.m., Sunday, June 7. Fun Run starts around 9:30 a.m.
Where: Wente Vineyards, 5050 Arroyo Road, Livermore
Fee: $40 for 5K Run/Walk; $45 for 10K; $10 less for runners under 18. Kids 1-Mile Fun Run (12 and under), $15
To register: go to lpfirefoundation.com or call (209) 795-7832. No dogs allowed on courses.